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Struggles with Siblings

In therapy, clients sometimes discuss their struggles with siblings. From them, I’ve learned that siblings (for which this only child yearned in childhood) can be both a blessing and a curse, in youth and adulthood. Here’s are some of the problems I see.

A common issue is competitiveness. Maybe you were the “golden” child or perhaps it was your sibling. If you were the favorite, your siblings might have felt neglected and treated unfairly. If one of your siblings was the favorite, you might have struggled with feeling you never measure up. Or maybe your parents didn’t have much inclination or time to shower you with attention, so that you all ended up vying for it then—and now.

Another problem is when one sibling in the family gets all (or most) of the attention in childhood due to having had a medical or mental condition which generates a need for trips to the doctor, special schooling, or other above-and-beyond care. The problem is complicated when a client is told as a child that she or he must have compassion for this sibling and it can be heightened when a client must take care of him or her—at his or her own expense. This may build up a head of resentment that can last a lifetime.

A third difficulty is being a parentified child and needing to take care of siblings while Mom or Dad works, drinks, is out partying, or is too depressed to parent effectively. Parentified children are usually the oldest or, often, the oldest female child. Although parentified children may feel positive in some ways about this role (enjoying their authority and perceived competence), it too often robs them of their childhoods because they are forced to attend to others’ needs and ignore or put aside their own.

A fourth situation is when a sibling is full of anger and rebellion and acts out a great deal. Maybe he or she drinks or does drugs, gets into legal difficulties, or is in frequent trouble in, or even drops out of, school. Very often, clients with this type of sibling are stuck in the role of the “good” child because they don’t wish to burden already burdened parents (or, often, a single parent) with their wants and needs. This doesn’t mean they don’t grow up resenting that they never had them met.

You and your sibling/s were all affected by the circumstances in which you were raised. Poverty, abuse, divorce, re-marriage, neglect or other hardships impacted all of you in various ways. It may help to talk with them about how childhood wounds still seem to be festering. Sometimes, sadly, the best option is to keep your distance from them. The bottom line is that they didn’t choose what happened to them in childhood and neither

did you, so that you were all victims. You cannot fix or change them, but you can always fix and change yourself and your attitude toward them.







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